Memory, Truth, and Imagination

Amy Tan

Lesson time 24:31 min

Amy walks you through her process of using emotional memory and real-life events to write fiction by sharing her own childhood memories.

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Topics include: Truth in Fiction Writing • Use Your Emotional Memories • Think About Context • Write With Integrity and Empathy • Using Creativity and Imagination in Your Writing • Exercise: Use Mementos as Prompts


[MUSIC PLAYING] - There are many people who misunderstand what fiction is. They'll say, fiction is a bunch of lies. And I would say fiction is actually one of the best ways for finding truth. The power of fiction is to find truth about what something really feels like, and a lot of it has to do with human nature. We're not talking about the ideal of how people should behave. We're talking about real behavior. Now, if you're in war, and the only way to escape is a route that only allows one person to go through, and it's either you or your best friend, or you and your mother who goes through, I want you to write the story in which you decide it's you. That's a really uncomfortable story to write. You're not going to let your best friend or your mother or anybody like that go through. You have to think of the context of the story that says, I'm going to try this and see what happens. So it's good to have discomfort when you're writing. Think of things and say, uh, the easy way is to use the assumption of what people expect. That's not truth. That's idealism. But if you sort of talked about the really uncomfortable things a lot of people would never say out loud-- they wished their mother wasn't their mother-- and you write about that in a book, and somebody reads that, and they say, oh, my god. That's exactly what I felt. I've had so many people say to me, you were so brave to write what you wrote, to say those things, to admit those things. And what they're saying is that I was brave, because they weren't brave enough to say them out loud, not that I intended to, not that I ever said in the story, I wish you weren't my mother. But I get to play around with all of the discomfort of the feelings that went into that thought. And what is interesting to me is you write a story like that, and you have people come up to you and say, you wrote my life. You said exactly what I've been feeling. You made me look at my relationship differently. And what's happened here is that by your telling the truth, where something very deeply personal, very specific to you, your story, your voice, has crossed from the page into somebody else's hands, into their mind, and in their heart. And it becomes their story. [MUSIC PLAYING] Oftentimes, a beginning writer will use a huge part of their life as their first book. It's natural. The very first story I tried to write was about the death of my father. And that story didn't go anywhere, because as a new writer, I tried to use everything as the way it happened. And when you do that, the story becomes almost stiff, inflexible, ironically, too much of a contrivance, because you've tried to adhere to exactly how it happened. But you can use your emotional memories. You can use your past in a way as the tool of your trade. You find these memories, little memories that caused you to have discomfort in your body, for example. I'll give you an-- something that happened to me. It was ...

About the Instructor

Amy Tan was 33 before she first explored her voice as a fiction author. A few years later, her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now she’s showing you her approach to the challenges and joy of self-discovery through writing. Learn how to craft compelling beginnings and endings, find your voice, and embrace your emotional memory to bring powerful narratives to life.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Amy Tan

The celebrated author shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.

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